TIME TO SAY GOODBYE – DR WHO – SERIES 10 REVIEW
TIME AND RELATIVE DIMENSIONS IN SPACE
I love Doctor Who and have written many times about it on this blog with reviews and articles. I think what I love about it most is that within the genre structure of a Time Lord and companions doing battle against foes is the fact that you can end up anywhere in time and space; in scientific reality and magical fantasy. Each episode contains surprise and mystery and imaginative ideas which draw you in again and again. So, here I go with a review of the at times completely genius, occasionally so-so, but mainly brilliant entertainment that is Season 10. If you also wish to read last season’s review please do so here.
SPOILERS AHEAD, DARLING
Couple of minor gripes before I start! Please stop with the preview spoilers BBC! There were too many dramatic surprises within the series given away across the TV screens and T’internet. Firstly Capaldi’s departure from the show AND John Simm would be coming back as The Master. Oh, and the origins of the Mondasian Cybermen was revealed too giving away another surprise from the exceptional double-headed finale. Lastly, now Chris Chibnall is to take over from Steven Moffat as showrunner, I hope he’ll dispense with the incessant characters dying and coming back to life trope. This has now literally been done to death. However, putting these minor grumbles aside I was very entertained by the season overall.
WHAT’S IN THE VAULT?
When the commanding character actor, musician, director and writer Peter Capaldi was announced as the new Doctor Who a few years ago, I was very excited. Here was an experienced actor full of gravitas, energy, wit, light and dark humour, who would no doubt bring his own vision to the role of the ancient Gallefreyan. And I was not disappointed at all! I really loved Capaldi’s Doctor because he was very rounded and in his face you could see the years of time-travelling experience. And wow – can he deliver a grandstanding monologue too!
In Season 10, he was meant to be anchored to Earth guarding the Vault, having taken an oath to ensure Missy/The Master does not escape. Instead he attempted to redeem Missy – portrayed with devilish brio – by Michelle Gomez. Did he succeed? Well, it’s open to interpretation. Nonetheless, this story arc was way more convincing and emotional than Season 9’s confusing “Hybrid” arc. In fact, I’d say Steven Moffatt nailed the dramatic arc and emotion on this one.
THE NEW FACES
The Doctor, as well as looking after the Vault, found two new companions in tow. They were Bill Potts, played with a wide-eyed and naïve charm by Pearl Mackie. We also had a former rogue-but-now-kinda-sweet cyborg called Nardole, portrayed by the brilliant comedic actor Matt Lucas. In a terrific meta-gag from Steven Moffat, during World Enough and Time, Missy called them “Exposition” and “Comic Relief”; however, I think they were a bit more than that.
As usual the audience were reflected in Bill’s character as her initial wide-eyed and open-mouthed awe at the Doctor and the Tardis’ capabilities gave way to an awe and wonderment at the space adventures that ensued. Bill proved herself a valuable sidekick to the Doctor. She had a kind soul and there were some emotional pull to her due her being an orphan, plus being gay created an extra dynamic in the storylines as well as some humour too.
Nardole, on the other hand, was mainly played for laughs as he had some fantastic banter with the Doctor. Lucas did not go over-the-top wacky though and gave Nardole a world-weary trudge and set of grumpy looks and fine one-liners. At the same time he remained very loyal to the Doctor and really came into his own in the latter episodes when his hacking skills were used to combat the Cybermen.
Thematically this season of Doctor Who was very strong. Of course the Doctor remained stalwart in his world view of protecting the oppressed against evil. But he also had a redemptive plan where Nardole and Missy were concerned. Reading between the lines it appeared Nardole had a shady past so the Doctor employs him to do right by his oath to guard Missy in the Vault. Missy however, was a more difficult proposition and during Extremis it is revealed the Doctor saves her from death, with a view to redeeming her soul. This theme plays out really well within the individual episodes, especially in the wonderful denouement of The Doctor Falls where Missy and her older self, The Master (fiendishly portrayed by John Simm) join forces against the Doctor; only for Missy to kind of atone and attempt to join the Doctor in the fight against the Cybermen.
Love was another powerful emotion and theme to pervade the season. The Doctor’s love for, or at least yearning for the childhood friendship he had with Missy/Master shone through during those final episodes. Bill’s love for her deceased Mother was palpable too, playing a big part in defeating the Monks in The Lie of the Land. Also, it was Bill’s love for Heather during the The Pilot episode which eventually saved her and the Doctor from certain death during The Doctor Falls. It was a big leap of faith in the storyline to believe this substantive narrative call-back, but I think it really worked and I was pleased Bill survived. What becomes of the Doctor we shall see?
The episodes generally were very strong and Doctor Who also gave some terrific social commentary in between the monsters, robots and general temporal trickery. Thin Ice critiqued racism, while Oxygen did the same with corporate greed. Rogue landlords and the student life were satirized in Knock Knock and most powerfully religious, medical and military control were examined and disparaged during the trilogy episodes: Extremis, Pyramid at the End of the World and Lie of the Land. Visually the show was also very striking with agricultural, urban and futuristic locales merging with some wonderful beasts, humanoids, robots and space zombie foes. Thus, overall, in my humble opinion, it was a very impressive and rich raft of Doctor Who episodes.
EPISODE REVIEW AND RATINGS (with more SPOLIERS)
- THE PILOT – Steven Moffat
This was a terrific opening episode full of fine sci-fi and fantasy concepts which established a melancholic desire for belonging and love across the stars. Bill meets the Doctor and is pursued by a strange alien force in oil form and we see the Vault for the first time. (Mark: 8 out of 10)
- SMILE – Frank Cottrell Bryce
Bill and The Doctor visit an Earth colony run by Emoji-faced robots which somehow had been programmed to treat grief and depression as a disease. A beautifully designed other world setting mixing future and agricultural landscapes is the strength of this episode. The Bill and Doctor dynamic also developed very nicely too. (Mark: 7.5 out of 10)
- THIN ICE – Sarah Dollard
Set in London 1814, the story found a nasty English Toff exploiting a beast below the iced river of the Thames for super-fuel. Bill discovers the Doctor is not a stranger to death and as a critique of the racist and prejudicial nature of the upper classes the episode works very well. (Mark: 8 out of 10)
- KNOCK-KNOCK – Mike Bartlett
Strange landlords, cockroaches and a house that eats people are the dangers that face Bill and her flatmates in this episode. David Suchet is on excellent form as the antagonist compelled to keep his Mother alive in a touching reveal at the story end. Capaldi’s Doctor is kind of in the background but, of course, comes to the fore when danger strikes. (Mark: 8 out of 10)
- OXYGEN – Jamie Mathieson
This was a terrific episode set on a space station where the air is literally paid for by the breath. Space zombies run amok as the Doctor, Bill and Nardole join a panicked crew into battling both monsters and a capitalist algorithm hell-bent on increasing profits. It’s full of great space mechanics, plot twists and race-against-the-clock excitement. Plus, the biggest gut-kicker is the Doctor goes blind; and the ramifications are very dramatic in later episodes. (Mark: 8.5 out of 10)
- EXTREMIS – Steve Moffat
This was a tricksy episode because, amidst the Doctor’s blindness, we also got the Doctor saving Missy from a fate worse than a fate worse than death. We also got The Monks who, similar to the skull-faced Silence were a religious baddie determined to take over Earth. It was wonderfully crafted with a fine Monty Python “Killing Joke” homage and convincing critique of organised religion and suicide cults. Arguably the simulacra-twist at the end undermined the drama a tad, but on second watch it was a very clever and well-written episode. (Mark: 8.5 out of 10)
- THE PYRAMID AT THE END OF THE WORLD – Peter Harkness and Steven Moffat
Following on from the religion heavy previous episode here the writers took a swipe at the military and the scientific folly of humanity. The Monks now reveal themselves openly and clearly to the world and that they will save the Earth from a biochemical catastrophe. The most powerful aspect of this episode is Bill’s decision to save the Doctor’s sight even though it means the Monks gaining control. Here the emotional power of the script was impressive and Capaldi was awesome in both wit and gravitas. (Mark: 8 out of 10)
- THE LIE OF THE LAND – Toby Whithouse
The Monks trilogy came to an end with the world plunged into a dystopic Big Brother style mind-controlling of stupid and gullible human beings. The Doctor has sided with the Monks and Bill and Nardole must track him down to attempt a reversal of fortune. Again Bill is at the centre of the emotion here as Pearl Mackie delivers a fine dramatic performance. Safe to say the Doctor and Bill’s love for her mother defeat the Monks somewhat fantastically but a strong denouement nonetheless. (Mark: 7.5 out of 10)
- EMPRESS OF MARS – Mark Gatiss
A meta-mish-mash episode from Mark Gatiss, as Zulu meets the Icemen of Mars! This fast-paced episode was reminiscent of old Doctor Who as the British Empire soldiers find they are no match for the Icemen and their recently awoken Empress. A direct cousin to the Gatiss-penned episode Cold War, what it lacked in emotion it made up with in humour and derring-do. (Mark: 7 out of 10)
- THE EATERS OF LIGHT – Rona Munro
More soldiers but this time the episode features the Picts and legendary 9th Roman Legion which mysteriously went missing in 2nd century Scotland. There was a lilting Celtic vibe to the music and cold landscape as a vicious beast feeds on the light and any humans in its way. I enjoyed the witty script and mix of historical and science fantasy made it very watchable indeed. (Mark: 7.5 out of 10)
- WORLD ENOUGH AND TIME – Steve Moffat
This was my favourite episode of the season; only spoilt by the BBC ridiculous policy of giving away plot details in the trailers. Here the Doctor, Nardole and Bill land on a humungous space-ship over 400 miles high which is perilously close to a black hole. The Doctor gives Missy a chance to shine as er… The Doctor and much hilarity ensues. Michelle Gomez owns this episode and the moment she meets her past Master is a wonderful twist. I loved the duality of evil theme and the ship with different temporal states was just a brilliant concept from Moffat. Bill’s slow transition into a Mondasian Cyberman is directed with creepy imagery and fear-inducing dread; while Capaldi’s face when he realises he’s too late is damned heart-breaking. (Mark: 10 out of 10)
- THE DOCTOR FALLS – Steven Moffat
The Doctor, Nardole and Cyber-Bill join together to battle the gathering Cybernetic storm. In their way though are the old Master and an on-the-fence-good-bad Missy. Bill’s realisation that she is a Cyber-person adds real pathos, while the Missy/Master axis of evil contains some dark wit between the action. The Doctor stands strong, until even he cannot sustain life amidst the beatings, electrocutions and explosions he suffers. With the Doctor and Bill virtually dead, and the Master and Missy killing each other, it is left to Heather (from The Pilot) to save the day. It was a big narrative pill to swallow but I loved the sentiment of love conquering space and time. Lastly, the final image of the Doctor, dying in the snow, being found by his original self was a wonderful payoff to lead into the Capaldi’s regeneration episode. (Mark: 9 out of 10)
I read on the social media forums a lot that, amidst the more level-headed Dr Who fans, people are very critical of how the show has gone under Steven Moffat. Like a football supporter unhappy with their manager they have been complaining that Moffat’s writing is not very good and episodes have become stale and repetitive or even worse boring. Everyone is entitled to their opinion but I say to those people to stop watching.
Having viewed all of the rebooted Dr Who seasons many times I think, for a science-fiction family show screened at teatime on a Saturday it is actually on the main brilliant. Some of Moffat’s over-elaborate timey-wimey arcs have probably been too complex and fantastical, however, he has tried to be imaginative and experimental and for that should be congratulated. He has done great service to the grand Time Lord and he, the production crew, actors and writers should be proud of their wonderful efforts.
We await a new Doctor and a regenerating writing team led by Chris Chibnall of Broadchurch fame. Broadchurch was a brilliant police show set in a coastal community and if he can bring the emotion and depth of character to Doctor Who, I believe the show will be in safe hands. And who will be the next Doctor! Well, my choice would be the superb actor Reece Shearsmith and if they so happen to make the character female then I would go for Olivia Colman. Who it will be only time (and space) will tell.